|Final Statistics: Alex & Maz||Total distance: 93,550km|
|Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ||Now settled in Sydney, Australia|
|Final Statistics: Martin||Total distance: 79,698km|
|Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia||Now settled in Bristol, UK|
A long drive up India
India, Country 15, Diary entry 28th Jan-4th Feb 2006, Total distance in India: 7133km
Last episode saw me retiring for the night on a petrol station forecourt on the highway heading north from Goa. After a bad night's sleep (the passing lorries all seemed to want to say hello to the petrol station owners with their 120dB horns) I woke up and started packing away the tent. The security guard came over angling for a tip, so I gave him what I considered at the time and still consider now to be quite a generous tip for looking after me but he wasn't satisfied and tried asking for more. Unable to convey my feeling for him as an ungrateful sod in my best Marathi language, I went to the pump to put in some diesel - only fair to the owners for them letting me stay there I thought. The pump only counted litres not rupees and the pump attendant took advantage of my half-awake state to miscalculate the total price in his favour by 100 Rs, a fact I realised about 10km up the road. Not a lot of money, but unfortunately for the occasional genuine friendly Indians that I did meet, I experienced this kind of dishonesty and "fleece the tourist" attitude much more often in India than any other country on the trip to date, and less than 24 hours after leaving my Goan R&R I was once again feeling a real dislike for India and wanting to leave as soon as possible.
Finally after a long drive I arrived at Ellora, the plan being to visit the caves the next day. The Ellora Caves are a series of 34 cave temples cut into a 2km long stretch of escarpment , pretty much in the middle of nowhere (except for the tourist infrastructure that has sprung up around the area of course). There is a selection of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain temples meaning that the construction took place over a period of five centuries, and is a fine representation of the resurgence of Hinduism in the area and corresponding decline in Buddhism, but more remarkably is the tolerance between the religions as each religion built its own temples and left the previous ones alone.
The masterpiece is the Kailasa Temple, roughly in the middle of the escarpment, it is a huge temple carved from the rock, and is entirely one single piece of the original rock. As such it is the world's largest monolithic sculpture (twice the floor area of the Parthenon in Athens and 11/2 times as high), but is no less intricate for this fact. Close up, it is incredibly ornately sculpted on the temple itself and around the periphery showing scenes from the Hindu scriptures and much of the detail is very well preserved today. Once again I was faced with the Indian dual-pricing structure and as a foreigner charged 25x the price of an Indian to enter this one temple, but once inside that was soon forgotten as the sight is truly breathtaking and took a good couple of hours to see around it.
The next day I was in no hurry because the Ajanta caves are closed on Mondays and it is only about an hour and a half's drive away from Ellora so I had a slow morning after waving goodbye to Bennie and Debby, a Dutch couple travelling in a Mercedes truck whom I'd met in Goa and who were heading the same direction as me in their slower vehicle. I eventually got on the road only to overtake them half an hour later. I stopped at the Ajanta viewpoint to look over the caves before arriving at the MTDC hotel in Fardapur early in the afternoon. There is nothing whatsoever to do in Fardapur so I spent the afternoon with a book and dozing on the hotel's lawn to the sound of the local langur monkeys arguing territory with Bennie and Debby's dogs.
The Ajanta caves are Buddhist and so pre-date those at Ellora, and were actually abandoned when Hinduism regained its popularity, to be discovered only in 1819 when a British hunting party discovered them by accident (hoorah for us again!). The caves were quite different to the Ellora caves. Where the Ellora caves were architecturally ornate, the Ajanta ones were simpler in architecture but brilliantly decorated by painting. Also, whereas the Ellora temples were dedicated to a number of different gods, at Ajanta they are all for Buddha, in many shapes and sizes. Many of the caves are in poor condition but a few have survived in spectacular condition thanks to their isolation over the centuries of abandonment.
After a couple of hours wandering around and admiring the caves I was keen to set off again because my next destination - Khajuraho - is a very long drive away with not much to see in between. Once again the Indian roads were challenging, and with dusk falling I tried to find a place to camp without success until I came across a Reliance service station. These are starting to spring up all over India but most are simple petrol stations, but some are full UK-style service stations with restaurants, a shop and even hot showers, and what's more they're even CLEAN!! I couldn't believe my luck when the manager agreed to allow me to camp in the car park. Of course I had the usual array of gawpers as I set up the tent but with another seven difficult hours of driving under my belt, I gave them nod as I climbed into the tent and zipped them all away for an early night.
A nice hot shower and masala omelette for breakfast prepared me for another long day of driving. The destination for the night was to be Jabalpur and the nearby Marble Rocks. Arriving at the village of Bheraghat I went straight for the MTDC hotel and found it to be the only clean building in the village. I negotiated a price for camping in their car park and went out for a walk to look over the gorge. The rocks have been polished white by the flow of the water through the gorge giving a look like marble. It was a pleasant enough walk, away from the tourists who tend to get on a boat and see the gorge from river level. The experience was slightly soured by the sight of a woman taking a dump on the path as I rounded a bend on the walk back to the hotel. In fact, Bheraghat is a strong contender for shitting capital of India - the following morning I walked five minutes from the hotel to the nearest public telephone office and saw no less than four people (children and adults) in the act of taking a dump and several other places where I had to tread carefully to avoid the human excrement. The plan was to spend only another week in India before crossing to Nepal, but with the political situation there flaring up around their elections we were not sure whether the borders would be open. I was dreading the idea of staying longer than necessary.
My distress was added to by the condition of the road leading away from town. In India there is no way to tell from the map whether a road will be good or bad - sometimes what is marked as a dual carriageway turns out to be an act of optimism on the part of the map makers and turns out to be a narrow single track road with a couple of patches of roadworks where one day they might improve the road, and faced with a choice of two roads heading in the general direction of my destination, I promptly chose the wrong one. It was the worst road I had experienced yet in India with 100km of bone-jarring ruts and ridges, and with no signposts I found myself at one point with no road at all and driving along the smallest of dirt tracks, crossing a river and ending up in a small village full of bemused onlookers. Thanks to my GPS I was able to see which general direction I wanted to go, but it took a couple of hours to escape and back onto the "good road" - still in dreadful condition but at least something to follow. Unfortunately the weight of the Land Cruiser combined with the terrible state of the road was too much even for the Old Man Emu suspension we'd upgraded to as part of the vehicle preparation prior to setting off, and the rear bushes broke leaving me with loud clanking noises. I had to limp 50km to the next town with any kind of mechanic (Panna), and fortunately the spares we'd carried with us were in my roof box rather than a thousand kilometres away with Alex and Maz so it was a relatively quick job to replace the bushes and carry along my way. The mechanic was actually the Mahindra tractor dealer - many thanks to them!
I arrived at Khajuraho, famous for its temples with their erotic art, and checked into a guest house with en-suite bathroom because something I'd eaten the day before was starting to disagree with me in a volcanic way. I will skip over the next day's events but I didn't stray far from my room.
The next day I visited the temples. There is a group of temples all very close to each other making an easy couple of hours exploration, and most of the temples are very similar to each other inside, and very similar to the other temples I'd visited elsewhere in India. The difference here though was the carvings on the outside of the temples were the most intricate I had seen, and the subject matter was rather different to what I'd seen elsewhere too. Many of the scenes showed people in various gymnastic positions like something out of the kama sutra. Nobody really knows why these sculptures were done but it is assumed they are Tantric images. According to this cult, gratification of the baser instincts is a way of achieving enlightenment. Being the proper English gentleman that I am, I did of course avert my gaze from such sordid scenes, and luckily there were plenty of other innocent scenes for me to look at. They used to really care for their horses in those days!
Finally it was goodbye to Khajuraho and onwards to Lucknow, where I had an appointment to visit one of Care India's projects - education projects in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh.
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